Caroline’s mother doesn’t believe me when I say I’m full. She is a typical Chinese hostess, deciding that I am being polite, even as I’m being truthful every time I tell her chibaole — I’ve eaten enough. “Eat, eat, eat” is her mantra as we sit around the dinner table at this home in Yiwu, feasting on eggplant, fried pumpkin, and — for Caroline and John — chicken feet and shrimp.
I think Caroline takes after her mother, because she doesn’t believe me either — about love, that is. You need to be careful who you date. She watched me double over in grief after Frank, as if I’d gotten food poisoning, and I chose him. This time, she wants to put a romantic possibility in my bowl. She wants to be my matchmaker.
Weeks before we came to Yiwu, I had a feeling she was going there. “I want to invite you and John to my hometown.” Caroline grinned knowingly as she made the announcement one day when I had come over to share some feedback on translations. She said it in front of the two translators that weren’t invited, Wang and Wu. Caroline hated Wang, so he didn’t matter. But the girl named Wu — who we all called a “spicy Sichuan sister” — was one of Caroline’s good friends. I looked at Caroline, who grinned as she raised one of her eyebrows. This was one of her signature looks, a look that meant only one thing that day: she had a plan for me, and she wasn’t going to say what or why.
Why John indeed? Was she playing a joke on me, just as she seemed to every time I came. “John was calling your name this morning,” she would often declare when I came to visit, giggling. “Weren’t you, John?”
If it was a joke, John seemed to be on the inside. “Please, won’t you sit down?” John would say on occasion when I came, in an almost British accent, pulling out the chair beside him as though he were welcoming the Queen herself.
“Tai e’xin — that’s nauseating!” That’s what Caroline usually said about John’s chivalry towards me. We all laughed, the way I used to when we saw lovers in middle school. But we were all in our early twenties, and I wasn’t so sure this was just another adolescent crush or child’s play. If anything, I feared it wasn’t.
Did your Chinese friends ever play matchmaker for you?
Memoirs of a Yangxifu in China is the story of love, cultural understanding and eventual marriage between one American woman from the city and one Chinese man from the countryside. To read the full series to date, visit the Memoirs of a Yangxifu archives.